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For Bangladeshi women, road maintenance brings better opportunities

Ashis Bhadra's picture
Bangladeshi women holding basket above their heads while working on road project. The Second Bangladesh Rural Transport Improvement Project interventions have created approximately 50,000 person-years of employment in project areas, out of which 30% were for poor women.
Bangladeshi women holding baskets above their heads while working on a road project. The Second Bangladesh Rural Transport Improvement Project has generated nearly 50,000 person-years of employment in project areas, out of which 30% were for poor women. Credit: World Bank

Not long after her husband suddenly died in 2012, Kunti Rabi Das struggled to put three square meals on the table for her family of three. Kunti, a member of the minority ethnic dalit community and living in the remote Rajnagar upazila under the Moulvibazar district of Bangladesh, simply didn’t have the means to produce enough to live on. Moreover, her prospects for any work that could support her family were dim.
 
That was her predicament until a Union Parishad (or village administrative council) representative introduce her to the Performance Based Maintenance Contract, or PBMC, program. Under PBMC, Kunti cleans drains, fills pits, clears minor blockades and plants trees on roadways near her home. Working six days a week, she earns up to 4,500 Taka per month.
 
The program provides a cost-effective and time-saving approach to keeping Bangladesh’s rural roads in optimal riding condition during every season. At the same time, it improves the lives and livelihoods of the country’s poorest women, who are given priority among other contractors vying for the work, according to the World Bank’s women’s empowerment principles.

Pathways to Prosperity: An e-Symposium

Martin Rama's picture

 

Blog 12: Key lessons on road to sharing prosperity

India is home to the largest number of poor people in the world, as well as the largest number of people who have recently escaped poverty. Over the last few weeks, this blog series has highlighted research from the World Bank and its partners on what has driven poverty reduction, what still stands in the way of progress, and the road to a more prosperous India.

This is the last blog in the
#Pathways2Prosperity series. You can read all the blogs in this series and keep contributing to the discussion around #WhatWillItTake to #EndPoverty in India.


A thorough review of India’s experience in reducing poverty over the last two decades confirmed some of our previous understanding, but it also revealed new, unexpected insights. On the confirmation side, we found that poverty in India, as in other parts of the world, is associated with a lack of assets at the household level, and especially with limited human capital.

At the national level, 45 percent of India’s poor are illiterate, whereas another 25 percent have a primary education at most. Further down several Indian states, including a few high-income ones, show stunting and underweight rates that are worse than the averages for sub-Saharan Africa. While multiple factors lie at the root of the nutrition challenge, the prevalence of diarrheal disease is thought to be one of the main culprits, and diarrhea is triggered by poor hygiene. Only 6 percent of India’s poor have tap water at home, and a little more than a fifth have a latrine or some form of improved sanitation.

From this perspective, investing in education, health and the delivery of basic services for India’s most disadvantaged people remains a key priority. Investments of this sort would enhance the human capital of the poor, hence increase their chances to prosper.

What India’s successful rural development programs can teach the world?

Ethel Sennhauser's picture

In India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu, I met young ex-farmers who had moved out of farm jobs and were now working in factories and government offices.  Their day to day circumstances weren’t all that different from millions of others around the world.

But yet, the people I met were remarkable.  There was the disabled young man who, with skills training, found an IT job and a life outside his home, and is now supporting his mother.  There were also women Self Help Group (SHG) members who, with support from their female Panchayat Leader, Pushpa, were helping to better the lives of their communities. They worked to improve water supply, build toilets and boost sanitation, and also found jobs in agro-processing.

My time in India made it clear to me that opportunity can change lives - especially in rural areas, where 78% of the country’s poor people live. 

Opportunity can come in various forms. It can come in the form of social empowerment - by giving voice to groups that are often marginalized, such as women, youth and disabled people.

It can also come in the form of jobs - through skills training, job placement programs and other services that help people secure formal employment. 

Jobs and social empowerment are two different opportunities. But they can be related: They both share transformative effects that are positive, and can multiply in unexpected directions.

For example, as women gain more confidence, their voices are listened to on a variety of matters within the home - such as on family planning and how to spend family incomes - improving the lives of their children and their families. Collectively, the power of their voices expressed through SHGs and other groups can bring about change on a larger scale, impacting the wider community as a whole.
 
Photo credit: Irina Klytchnikova



Jobs, too, are known to have transformative effects. They give people the economic resources to improve their quality of life, open up new opportunities and enable them to engage with the outside world.

Pathways to Prosperity: An e-Symposium

Urmila Chatterjee's picture

Blog #11: Since 2005, fewer jobs for women in India

India is home to the largest number of poor people in the world, as well as the largest number of people who have recently escaped poverty. Over the next few weeks, this blog series will highlight recent research from the World Bank and its partners on what has driven poverty reduction, what still stands in the way of progress, and the road to a more prosperous India.

We hope this will spark a conversation around #WhatWillItTake to #EndPoverty in India. Read all the blogs in this series, we look forward to your comments. 

Female labor force participation in India is among the lowest in the world. What’s worse, the share of working women in India is declining.  This is a cause for concern since higher labor earnings are the primary driver of poverty reduction. It is often argued that declining female participation is due to rising incomes that allow more women to stay at home. The evidence, however, shows that after farming jobs collapsed post 2005, alternative jobs considered suitable for women failed to replace them.

Pathways to Prosperity: An e-Symposium

Martin Rama's picture

Blog #10: Three job deficits in unfolding India story

India is home to the largest number of poor people in the world, as well as the largest number of people who have recently escaped poverty. Over the next few weeks, this blog series will highlight recent research from the World Bank and its partners on what has driven poverty reduction, what still stands in the way of progress, and the road to a more prosperous India.

We hope this will spark a conversation around 
#WhatWillItTake to #EndPoverty in India. Read all the blogs in this series, we look forward to your comments. 


Rising labor earnings have driven India’s recent decline in poverty.  But the quantity and quality of jobs created raise concerns about the sustainability of poverty reduction, and the prospects for enlarging the middle class. The period after 2005 can be best described as one of a growing jobs deficit. Three deficits actually: i) a deficit in the overall number of jobs, ii) a deficit in the number of good jobs, and iii) a deficit in the number of suitable jobs for women. 

Pathways to Prosperity: An e-Symposium

Yue Li's picture
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Blog #9: Where you live decides how ‘well’ you live

India is home to the largest number of poor people in the world, as well as the largest number of people who have recently escaped poverty. Over the next few weeks, this blog series will highlight recent research from the World Bank and its partners on what has driven poverty reduction, what still stands in the way of progress, and the road to a more prosperous India.

We hope this will spark a conversation around 
#WhatWillItTake to #EndPoverty in India. Read all the blogs in this series, we look forward to your comments. 

Location and poverty are intimately linked. In India’s rapidly transforming economy, where the boundaries between rural and urban have become increasingly blurred, living standards are much higher in ‘good’ locations, and much worse in places that are not so ‘good’. In the years to come, creating more such ‘good’ locations, and spreading their prosperity to surroundings areas, will play a key role in raising incomes and reducing poverty in India.

Pathways to Prosperity: An e-Symposium

Hanan Jacoby's picture

 

Blog #8: In building and agri boom, rural wage lift

India is home to the largest number of poor people in the world, as well as the largest number of people who have recently escaped poverty. Over the next few weeks, this blog series will highlight recent research from the World Bank and its partners on what has driven poverty reduction, what still stands in the way of progress, and the road to a more prosperous India.

We hope this will spark a conversation around #WhatWillItTake to #EndPoverty in India. Read all the blogs in this series, we look forward to your comments. 

Real wages have risen across India in the past two decades, but the increase was especially marked among rural unskilled workers. Three drivers – falling rural female labor force participation, a construction boom, and favorable agricultural terms of trade -- help explain why unskilled rural workers fared better than their urban counterparts or workers with more education. Going forward, in light of lower agricultural prices and slower growth in the construction sector, some of the factors that contributed to the increase in relative wages for unskilled labor during this period may not be sustained over time. 

Pathways to Prosperity: An e-Symposium

Carlos Felipe Balcazar's picture


Blog #7: Jobs, not transfers, the big poverty buster


India is home to the largest number of poor people in the world, as well as the largest number of people who have recently escaped poverty. Over the next few weeks, this blog series will highlight recent research from the World Bank and its partners on what has driven poverty reduction, what still stands in the way of progress, and the road to a more prosperous India.

We hope this will spark a conversation around #WhatWillItTake to #EndPoverty in India. Read all the blogs in this series, we look forward to your comments. 


The significant shift from farm work to non-farm sources of income accelerated the decline in poverty in India. Non-farm jobs pay more than agricultural labor, and incomes from both were propelled by a steep rise in wages for rural unskilled labor. While lower dependency rates and transfers - from remittances and social programs - have contributed to a reduction in poverty, they are not the primary drivers of the poverty decline between 2005 and 2012.

Pathways to Prosperity: An e-Symposium

Peter Lanjouw's picture
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Blog #3: Poverty down, but 1 in 2 hangs by a thread

 
India is home to the largest number of poor people in the world, as well as the largest number of people who have recently escaped poverty. Over the next few weeks, this blog series will highlight recent research from the World Bank and its partners on what has driven poverty reduction, what still stands in the way of progress, and the road to a more prosperous India.

We hope this will spark a conversation around #WhatWillItTake to #EndPoverty in India. Read all the blogs in this series, we look forward to your comments.


The sharp decline in poverty in India has been accompanied by a strong pattern of upward mobility, leading to an emerging middle class. Education, urban residence, and wage work have contributed to this higher-than-average upward mobility and lower downward mobility.  Yet, a vast share of the population remains vulnerable to slipping back into poverty, suggesting that gains against poverty need to be deepened and made more secure.  Scheduled Tribes stand out as a group that has fallen further behind, with one-third stuck in chronic poverty.

Pathways to Prosperity: An e-Symposium

Onno Ruhl's picture

 

Blog #1: Five key drivers of reducing poverty in India

India is uniquely placed to drive global poverty reduction. The country is home to the largest number of poor people in the world, as well as the largest number of people who have recently escaped poverty. Despite an emerging middle class, many of India’s people are still vulnerable to falling back into poverty.

Over the next few weeks, this series will look back and analyze publicly available data to better understand what has driven poverty reduction from the mid-1990s until 2012, and the potential pathways that can lead to a more prosperous India. Since it is clearly not feasible to elaborate on all the myriad pathways out of poverty available to India, we focus on a few key themes that the diagnostics show to be of particular relevance to the country. We hope this series will contribute to the ongoing discussions on how poverty can be eliminated from India.

We are thankful to the Indian Express for partnering with us in disseminating this series to its readers.

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